Family law like every other way of life has had to adapt and adapt quickly under the threat of Coronavirus. Hearings listed in those first few weeks were likely to be adjourned with no notice, the courts were scrabbling around trying desperately to find a way through to enable the justice system to continue within the lockdown conditions. However, the often antiquated system, did find a way, with Coronavirus dragging the family courts kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Hearings began to be listed for telephone or video hearings and the courts began to accept applications and evidence by email which historically they have not done before. Did it go right every time? No, it didn’t, but it did enable many hearings to proceed in what were extremely difficult and unprecedented circumstances.
Unfortunately, the delays didn’t end there. Other hearings were adjourned by agreement due to reports not being available due to lockdown. We then saw an influx of instructions for enforcement of ‘contact’, some applications got listed quickly but others got caught up in the now huge backlog of cases.
As a department and thanks to Ellisons’ significant investment in IT support we were all able to work seamlessly from home. We also adjusted our services in order to meet our clients’ needs by offering appointments outside of the usual office hours, acknowledging the fact that due to childcare and being in lockdown meant that it would be very difficult to access legal services during the usual office hours. Lockdown meant that video and telephone conferencing had to be embraced and that enabled us to offer a dynamic service in order to meet existing needs.
Lockdown continues to offer many challenges and whilst we all struggle in our own way both personally and professionally there will be many positives that come from our fight against Coronavirus including positive changes in the family court system, accepting evidence and bundles by email for one has been a significant and beneficial change all round. As a department we will continue to meet all our clients’ needs regardless of these extremely difficult and unprecedented times.